Covid-19 has had an unprecedented effect on industries, economies and people around the world. However, every crisis and major incident reveals insights that can inform creativity, ideas and new solutions to long-established problems.
February and March 2020 saw the Dow Jones sink by 3.6%, and China’s growth forecast reduced. Airlines suffered significant lack of demand and ability to perform their services due to travel restrictions, with carrier Flybe collapsing and Ryanair and easyJet predicting losses, and Tata Motors reporting a reduction in Jaguar Landrover’s production as the first of the low profits forecast for the Automotive industry. Unemployment in the UK alone is predicted to double in the second quarter of 2020 as whole sectors are forced to halt production and services.
However, this state of emergency and rapid decline is temporary. The world will once again return to needing flights, trains and cars for global and local transport, business and education services will be in high demand to get students and workers back up to speed, and the general public will be only too happy to enjoy the hospitality, retail and entertainment industries even more than before. Recruitment will be more important than ever before, with an estimated 47million people unemployed and ready to work in the USA alone. The upturn following the predicted recession will present an excellent opportunity to engage workforces of different skillsets, who now have the chance to embark on a new career path and provide organisations with the diverse knowledge and experiences necessary to drive innovation.
The Covid-19 pandemic will have forced millions of organisations to send their office-based workers home to work remotely for at least a number of weeks. Whilst not the most ideal situation to test the validity of home working, studies conducted over the past few years have shown that remote workers are more productive, happier and less stressed, with significant positive effects on their work.
Businesses are increasingly understanding the impact of personal autonomy on employee happiness, with flexible working policies found to improve productivity, retention and worker wellbeing. 62% of businesses worldwide currently offer a flexible working policy, and this has already been predicted to grow from 2020 and beyond. American Express, AT&T, Best Buy, British Telecom and Dow Chemical report that remote workers are 40% more productive.
Flexible working hours will also become more commonplace. Freelancers often create their own schedules, benefiting individuals who are more creative late at night or want to fit exercise and caring responsibilities around their daily tasks, and remote workers will also have enjoyed this way of operating in recent weeks. 1 in 3 employees prioritise benefits packages when searching for a new job, and flexibility is the number one benefit desired across industries, ahead of higher salaries, gym memberships and discounts/subscriptions. Increased productivity and engagement during a critical time for businesses will engender more trust from business leaders, who will shift towards a new way of working that empowers employees and works to their strengths, for the benefit of companies and their staff.
The often-quoted saying ‘You never know how strong you are until you have to be’ is especially true in times of global or national difficulties, such as wars, economic recessions and pandemics like the coronavirus. Being suddenly cut off from the outside world, the inability to connect with colleagues face-to-face and the pressure to find solutions quickly will have enhanced the resilience and self-reliance of the majority of workers.
Employees who have been dropped in at the deep end will possess a brand new set of skills. Individuals across functions and levels will have experience of problem-solving, decision-making and fast innovation. Perhaps surprisingly, communication skills will also have improved. The inability to speak in person will have caused many to brush up on their written communication to maintain contact with their colleagues and ensure all parties understand each other. Organisation and collaborative working will also have improved, as geographically separated colleagues put extra effort into ensuring the smooth running of projects and processes and ensure that everyone knows what they’re doing, what stage they’re at and what results are needed when.
Somewhat ironically, social distancing is likely to bring people back together again. Employees who have spent months working in the silos of their own homes will better understand the importance of working together, and will be more skilled at facilitating teamwork and communication. Departments will be more inclined to collaborate proactively, providing unprecedented innovation from all sides, and increasing efficiencies. A greater adoption of teamwork will foster increased respect and a more human attitude towards colleagues and suppliers, with a knock-on effect on employee engagement and job satisfaction. Collaborative, inspired and creative teams will exceed project deadlines, improve product and service quality and increase customer satisfaction.
Collaboration will also involve both employees and consumers or user groups in everyday business activities and wider strategy. Customers will become more involved in product and service development, and as a result customer service will better serve its user group, and brands will generate real loyalty.
Those forced to work remotely will have spent their time investigating, using and expertly mastering new technologies. Communication tools such as Skype, Zoom and Microsoft Teams, project management and organisation platforms such as Slack and Monday.com, and many other apps and software are becoming part of day-to-day life for former office workers. Many of these technologies are free or offer very low-cost options that can be scaled to match business size and needs. These technologies will also be incorporated into the company. Internal messaging systems will facilitate greater communication and efficiency, allowing employees to be more productive than ever before. Younger generations already used to video chat and mobile app communication will drive the alignment of ways of working with the technological activities and interactions of employees in their personal lives.
The importance of emerging technologies will have been realised by millions of consumers in their own homes. Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) will have acted as escapement and entertainment for the masses whilst most outdoor activities such as exercising in gyms, visiting theatres, museums, cinemas and galleries, and travelling around the world has been prohibited throughout country-wide lockdowns. Organisations can utilise these technologies and others to innovate ahead of competitors, both by harnessing them for employee communication and productivity, and by incorporating into products and services in creative new ways.
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